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Job openings are near an all-time high. How to navigate a career change

You don't have to go far to see a "now hiring" sign these days, as certain industries struggle to bounce back amid the coronavirus pandemic.  

For some workers, it may be a good time to change careers.

While millions of Americans are still unemployed, some industries can't hire fast enough to meet demand. The unemployment rate fell slightly to 5.4% in July but remains higher than pre-pandemic. Those claiming unemployment insurance benefits fell to a pandemic-era low of 2.82 million in the week ending Aug. 14, although it is still elevated.

At the same time, job openings surged to an all-time high of 10.1 million at the end of June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (the data lags the unemployment report by one month.) That means there's roughly one unemployed person per open job, according to the data.

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But just because there are many jobs open overall doesn't mean that is necessarily the case for your specific industry. Before starting a new job search, or even leaving employment without something else secured, you should do your research on what's going on in your industry, experts say.

"Nationwide, there are two active online applications for every unemployed American right now, but that's not the case everywhere," said Julia Pollak, chief labor economist at ZipRecruiter.

If you're in leisure, hospitality or another service industry, you'll likely have a much easier time finding a job than in other sectors. There's also a premium for remote work right now — some 55% of applicants want a remote job but only 10% of companies offer them, according to Pollak.

Identify what you want in a new job

If you are looking to move jobs, especially in a field where there's a lot of demand for new workers, you likely have more leverage than before the pandemic to negotiate, according to Paul Wolfe, senior vice president of human resources at Indeed.

"The pandemic has shifted our perspectives on what's important," he said. "Job seekers have wanted it for a while, and now they're going to get it."

That means that going into a new job, you should be very clear on what you're looking for and do the research to make sure companies align with your needs, be it a higher salary, more vacation time or flexible remote work, according to Wolfe.

In the interview process, he recommends asking questions to ensure the company will give you what you want, especially around greater flexibility for remote work, which is a top characteristic people are looking for.

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